It’s a little after 1 p.m. Pacific Time on Friday, October 27 and Joe Keery still hasn’t looked at the Internet. Even though this is the biggest day of the year since Stranger Things Season One became a surprise phenomena last summer, Keery is having a pretty low-key day, he tells me. “We’re going to check out the Griffith Observatory,” Keery tells me, mentioning that it was a location for James Dean’s classic
In fact, until I mention it, Keery doesn’t realize the reviews and recaps have already been rolling out since Netflix dropped the full nine episodes of Stranger Things 2 a few hours earlier. But Keery isn’t the only one extremely chill these days. His character—Steve Harrington—has also gotten a lot more relaxed in the show’s second season.
Over the course of the show’s two seasons, Steve has become one of Stranger Things’ most dynamic characters. At the beginning of Season One, he’s your typical high school bully with the perfect set of hair and the perfect girlfriend. He plays football and smashes the quiet loner’s camera. But, like some high school teens tend to do, Steve grew up. Paired with falling in love with Nancy and the ultra-dimensional beast that killed a schoolmate and kidnapped a neighborhood boy, Steve has matured quite a bit. He’s humbled, selfless, and brave in Season Two. He’s the highlight of these nine new episodes, with Keery shining alongside Gaten Matarazzo’s Dustin Henderson, for whom he’s become somewhat of a brotherly mentor.
Before he heads off to the Mount Hollywood landmark, Keery tells me about how his character has grown, the secret to Steve’s perfect hair, how he’ll become a meme this season, and his band getting signed to a record label.
Steve really has grown up fast in Season Two.
I think of it as kind of a fluid arc; it’s kind of a journey. It’s him growing up and becoming less self-absorbed. This character only cares about himself and the way people see him. In Season One, you really see that he cares about this girl; the beginning [of Season Two]is a catalyst is him learning to put others before himself. And I think it’s a super necessary part of him growing up and we see that through the relationship with the kids and through his final interactions with Nancy at the end of the season.
How Steve subverts typical ’80s character tropes.
I think a lot of it has to do with the writing. The boys do such a nice job of telling these stories. Personally, I think it’s my job to make sure people can relate to everything this character is doing and saying, even if it’s the wrong thing like breaking a camera. It’s an amalgamation of me making sure I’m doing my job and the writers making sure they do their jobs. They do such a good job of making sure the material is rich and full of human decisions, rather than just falling into a trope. They’re also really collaborative on set and in the writing room, and they’re really open to ideas. Them fostering that sort of vibe on set is integral to the show and subverting those tropes.
The trauma of Season One changed Steve.
The prep I was doing was mostly kind of—and this is going to sound cheesy—getting into the mindset of Steve one year later after the events of last year. I think one of the reasons that he and Nancy don’t work out is they both have different ways of dealing with the trauma. It was really about getting into the headspace of that character and making sure I understood everything that happened after Season One—[that] was the most important thing I could do for Season Two. Because he really deeply cares about Nancy, which you can tell in that shot [of him] sitting on the couch at the end of Season Two, where she looks one way and he looks another way. That look alone kind of explains what happens in Season Two and why the characters don’t get along. She wants to go about it one way and he wants to go about it another way, and eventually that’s what comes to a head.
Despite the monsters and other dimensions, at its heart Stranger Things is a relatable story.
It’s about this crazy extra terrestrial shit that’s going on, but the real conflict is how people deal with this situation differently. Fundamentally, that could be the end of so many types of situations. I think it’s believable, and I think it’s kind of a realistic thing. I think the boys did a really smart move making that a catalyst for me and Natalia’s characters.
His relationship with actor Gaten Matarazzo shone through in some of his favorite scenes.
That was one of my favorite scenes to film. It’s not like I really do anything for my hair; I just wash it every three to four days. People seem to be mystified by it. It’s mostly just my parents’ hair. What I really like about that scene is you see Steve for the first time let his guard down with this kid. The characters kind of come together because they’re both kind of left in the dust. They find what they need in each other. It ends up helping both of them and they learn from it. That scene is a moment where they both let their guard down and you can see that he really cares about this kid, and it’s helpful in his journey to care more about others than he does himself. It’s also these two characters who think they have it all figured out—but in no way have it all figured out.
Also, Gaten is such a genius; he’s such a smart funny kid. And I’m learning so many things about how to be spontaneous and relaxing. I’m ready to get back to work and shoot more. The kid is obviously 10 years younger than me, but he feels more mature than me. He’s a gracious kid, man; he has a really good head on his shoulder. A lot of people ask me how the kids are, and the kids are doing excellent. They’re dealing with such a crazy thing going on in their life.
It’s actually been really cool to become famous so quickly.
To put it simply: People who are strangers to me will come up and say, “Are you that guy from that show?” I’ll be like, “Yeah,” and they’ll say, “Oh, nice job.” And really, for the most part, it’s people showing appreciation for the work you’ve done. It’s really cool to have this positive response when just two years ago I was just waiting tables trying to get any acting job—let alone on a show that everyone watches. I mostly just feel really humbled and thankful, because I could be struggling to get any type of job.
It takes more than than shampoo, conditioner, and Farrah Fawcett’s Fabergé Organics hairspray to get Steve’s perfect hair.
Well, the cut’s good. And if the haircut is good, that’s half the job. It’s just a blow-dry with stuff in the back. Sarah Hindsgaul, who is the head of hair, is totally killer. She’s the best. She does the hair for the entire cast, and you can see how accurate and subtle her work is. It’s not, like, in-your-face ‘80s hair; it’s really nice and tasteful. She’s the hair guru.
I think they’ve actually discontinued [Fabergé Organics]. You can probably find it on ebay or something. Prices will probably jack up in the next week or two. Or maybe Netflix will reissue it.
Someone actually wrote Steve’s horrible essay.
I read that essay in the show, and it was a horrible, horrible, horrible essay. It was like, “I, Steve Harrington, stole the ball and I made the shot and that relates to the war for these reasons.” Any of the kids on the show could have written a better essay. It was like a page and a half long—definitely not long enough for a college application. I actually don’t know who wrote it. Whoever wrote that should just come forward and tell me.
His band, Post Animal, just got signed to a record deal.
Honestly, the band has been really great. Work has gotten a little in the way, but I’m really proud of these guys. I’ve lived with them for almost two years in Chicago. This summer I’ve been doing a lot of work stuff, but they’ve been doing really well. They just signed a record label for the record we all wrote last summer. It’s going to be out in springtime I believe, on Polyvinyl records. I’m very excited for the boys because music is another love of mine. And I don’t know another group of people who are as devoted and hard working as these guys. I’ll be able to be on this record that will be released. I feel super lucky. I’m really hoping that shooting this year kind of lines up so I’ll be able to take about a month and continue to do that. We’re going to try to go write the next record over January and February. It’s something we all work on and we all kind of have our own solo projects. I think people will really like the record it’s like classic rock—kind of psychedelic and we recorded it at this lake house up in Michigan. We just shacked up for about two weeks and banged it out.
The Upside Down Parent Trap. pic.twitter.com/EcVfdvOIzA
— Ben Schwartz (@rejectedjokes) September 20, 2016
The Steve and Jean-Ralphio was his meme last year, he thinks his dancing will go viral this year.
Maybe my face when I’m dancing. I look like a total idiot. It was in the Michael Jackson trailer. I didn’t even realize it, but I’m making the Tom Cruise Risky Business face, where he’s getting interviewed for college and he has this kind of open-mouthed look—that kind of classic Tom Cruise face. I don’t know if I’m allowed to turn it into a meme myself.
Where Steve is emotionally in the end of Season Two, going into Season Three.
He’s kind of realized that he’s not necessarily the best thing for Nancy. And he really loves this person. He knows that the best thing he can do is let her move on and do what she needs to do. I don’t think he’s given up hope, but I think he’s come to terms with the fact that to do what’s best for her he might not be doing what’s best for himself. Obviously, he’s going to have trouble getting into college. Who knows if he’ll even get in. HIs entire social climate has changed. The friends that he had—he doesn’t really have them any more. He’s really kind of in this limbo, and he could go a ton of different ways. The Duffer Brothers and I have discussed a few things, but I’ll keep those secret in case any of those actually happen.
When he’s getting back to work on Stranger Things.
I’ve got some time to hang out. I’ll be doing some traveling and I’m looking to book another gig. Just always looking for the next job. I’m going to do some press; I’m taking my little sister and we’re going to Italy to do press for the show. Stranger Things is in break mode right now. They have to write the damn thing. Step one: Write the damn thing!